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Archives Remembering Msgr. Riani

May 29, 2019

By Darcy Fargo

“One of my first recollections of the living faith was learning to read the inscription over the sanctuary of RianiImmaculate Conception (in Keeseville), ‘Where Your Treasure Is, There Also Will Your Heart Be. (Lk. 12:34)’ and loudly announcing my newfound ability to the congregation. As a result, I was sent across the yard after Mass to apologize to Father John Bent, the Pastor, for talking in church. He received me kindly and said, ‘You know, Peter, if you want to talk in church you will have to become a priest.’ I was four years old.”

Msgr. Peter R. Riani penned those words for the December 19, 2012 edition of the North Country Catholic, describing the earliest suggestion that he would serve the Lord and the Church as his life’s vocation and mission.

Msgr. Riani died May 16, 2019 at the age of 89. He died just a few days shy of the 64th anniversary of his ordination.

Msgr. Leeward J. Poissant, a close friend of Msgr. Riani, said Msgr. Riani’s life reflected his love of the Lord and the peace and happiness that gave him.

“Several years before he died, he chose some words that would be an inscription on his tombstone,” Msgr. Poissant said. “The words were ‘smile, Jesus is risen.’ Whenever anyone asked him why he chose that inscription, he would explain that we have joy in our lives because Jesus is risen from the dead and still with us. And it gives us hope of our own resurrection when our time comes, and that resurrection in us has already begun with the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. If that isn’t enough to make us smile, I don’t know what is.”

Father Richard S. Sturtz, also a close friend of Msgr. Riani, said Msgr. Riani was a “renaissance man,” yet exceedingly humble.

“First thing – he always wanted to be known as ‘Father,’” Father Sturtz said. “When he was made a monsignor, it crushed him. He was a humble man. He was also a renaissance man. He loved art, opera, philosophy, astronomy, theology… and he would communicate those loves to his students (at Wadhams Hall Seminary). He would offer seminars in the summer back in the days before Guggenheim opened. I remember he did one on classic movies. It was a lot of foreign films.”

Despite his varied interests, Father Sturtz said Msgr. Riani was first and foremost “a church man.”

“He was deeply, deeply dedicated as a priest,” Father Sturtz said. “Early in his priesthood, when he had been a priest for four years, he was sent to Rome to get a doctorate in theology. He already had a licentiate – master’s degree. He could see the need for opening up in the church. He was in Rome studying at the Angelicum, before the Council began, and he could sense from the talks the pope was giving that there was movement in the direction of opening the doors and windows to church. After the Council took place, he was back in the States and gave lectures all over the diocese about the Second Vatican Council.”

Msgr. Poissant said Msgr. Riani’s strong faith helped him through difficult times.

“We all go through the death of our parents, and it’s never easy,” Msgr. Poissant said. “But his situation was a little unusual. His parents died nine days apart with Christmas in the middle. His mother, Mary, died December 22, 1987. His father, Peter, died December 31, 1987. I was at both funerals, he celebrated them. I’m sure it was a very difficult time. His faith in the resurrection and that Jesus is risen was evident in those Masses, even at such at difficult time.”

Both Msgr. Poissant and Father Sturtz noted that a significant portion of Msgr. Riani’s priesthood was spent educating future priests at Wadhams Hall Seminary, where he served as an instructor and later the school’s president-rector.

“He was a great teacher, not only in classroom but by his life example,” said Msgr. Poissant. “He was a teacher for all who knew him, even if they hadn’t been in one of his classes.”

In addition to teaching many of our diocesan priests in the classroom, Father Sturtz said Msgr. Riani was instrumental in changing the seminary curriculum to better form seminarians, using a program first implemented at Catholic University.

“It was a complete program – addressing academic and spiritual life in seminary,” Father Sturtz said. “He was a leader in that. His love for the priesthood and formation was evident in seminary.”

Msgr. Riani was also known for his love of travel, a love he shared with many of his friends.

“I remember being told in seminary, ‘if you travel with a priest, and you’re friends after you’ve traveled, that’s true friendship,’” Father Sturtz said. “We traveled the world together. We visited all the continents except Antarctica.”

Both Msgr. Poissant and Father Sturtz said Msgr. Riani maintained his spirit for ministry through his decline due to Parkinson’s Disease.

“He struggled with Parkinson’s for years,” Msgr. Poissant said. “One time, I visited him when he was in an assisted living facility in Willsboro. He told me had had come to terms with the fact he couldn’t do as much for others as he’d like, but he said his new ministry was being loving to the people who were providing care for him.”

“When he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, never once did I hear him complain or ask ‘why me,’” Father Sturtz added.

Both men also indicated they would miss their friend.

“He was like a brother to me,” Father Sturtz said. “I knew him for over 70 years.”

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